At an on-campus celebration on Dec. 6, 2021, Rhodes College announced the appointment of Jennifer M. Collins as its 21st president following a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees. An inspiring leader, beloved educator and committed proponent of the value of the liberal arts, she is currently the Judge James Noel Dean and professor of law at Southern Methodist University (TX).
Since 2014, Collins has served as the dean of the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University (SMU), where she works with more than 100 faculty members and supports more than 800 domestic and international students. Previously, she was a member of the law faculty at Wake Forest University (NC) in 2003 and served as associate provost for academic and strategic initiatives and vice provost. Collins taught courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, family law, gender and the law, and career development and legal professionalism. She has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching.
In introducing President-elect Collins, Board of Trustees Chair and Presidential Search Committee Co-chair Cary Fowler ’71 P’19 said, “While the applicant pool was by far the strongest I have ever witnessed for any position in my professional life, one person in this wonderfully diverse and accomplished pool shone through at every stage. Jennifer’s CV and her many accomplishments impressed us tremendously, but it was her personal qualities that won our hearts. We found her to be warm and caring. A good listener. Empathetic and yet decisive; even unflappable. In Jennifer, we will have a president with the values we hold dear at Rhodes College.”
In her first comments to the Rhodes community, President-elect Collins said, “When I talked to the search committee about why I was so excited about joining you, two of the things I focused on were your remarkable people and this wonderful place, the beautiful city of Memphis, that I will now be so fortunate to call home. I know I still have so very much to learn about Rhodes and Memphis, and I promise to approach this role with a firm commitment to listen and learn, to respect your culture and values, and to work collaboratively, transparently, and joyfully with all the people who make Rhodes so special.”
Prior to her academic career, President-elect Collins practiced law in Washington, DC, clerking for the Hon. Dorothy W. Nelson in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and working in private practice before joining the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel as an attorney-adviser. She then served as Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. She returned to private practice before moving to Wake Forest.
She is the co-author of Privilege or Punish? Criminal Justice and The Challenge of Family Ties (Oxford University Press 2009). In addition, she has written many other law review articles and essays featured in Yale Law Journal, Boston University Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, and more. President-elect Collins’ scholarship is focused on issues involving families and the criminal justice system.
She received her B.A., cum laude with distinction, in history from Yale University and her J.D., magna cum laude from Harvard University, where she also served as an editor for the Harvard Law Review.
President-elect Collins and her husband, Adam Charnes, an appellate attorney, are the parents of Jake, Lily, and Sam.
She will assume her responsibilities on July 1, 2022, succeeding Interim President Carroll Stevens, who has served the college since July 1, 2021, following the departure of President Marjorie Hass.